Coming up in Committee: Twenty-One Sets of Bills Scheduled to be Heard by the RI General Assembly, April 24 – April 26, Part 2

9. H7719/H7378/S2757: Changes how debt service is considered in maintenance of effort calculations for school-district budgeting. H7719 would apply to all school districts; the other bills apply only to regional districts (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26 & S Finance; Tue, Apr 24). Also, H7815 would have the maintenance of effort amount in each community determined by the state’s Auditor General (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).
8. S2287: Instructs the state health insurance commissioner to phase out the use of fee-for-service medicine in Rhode Island (S Health and Human Services; Wed, Apr 25).
7B. H7714: “No provision or provisions in any collective bargaining agreement providing for binding arbitration shall be applicable or applied to” the development of locally-administered public employee pension plans (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).
7A. H7713: Amends the Home Rule Article of the Rhode Island Constitution (new part underlined) to read:

SECTION 2. Local legislative powers – Every city and town shall have the power at any time to adopt a charter, amend its charter, enact and amend local laws relating to its property, affairs and government not inconsistent with this Constitution and laws enacted by the general assembly in conformity with the powers reserved to the general assembly, provided, however, that no city or town shall have the power to offer as an inducement to employment or continued employment, any compensation or benefit, future or present, including, but not limited to, compensation or benefits pertaining to pension or retirement, that would be in excess of any such compensation or benefit allowed by any law enacted by the general assembly, including laws enacted by the general assembly which became effective prior to this amendment (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).

6B. Various unreforms of the pension system; S2552 modifies the part of last year’s reform that suspended cost of living increases when a pension plan is less than 80% funded, reinstating annual cost-of-living increases “for all members whose annual retirement allowance is at or below one hundred fifty percent (150%) of the federal poverty level” (S Finance; Wed, Apr 25); H7711 would repeal the minimum age of 55 for the retirement of police officers and fire fighters (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).
6A. H7418: If I read this correctly, this would prohibit cities and towns from moving or being moved into the state pension system, if they currently operate or participate in any other local pension system, i.e. it would prohibit closing a local pension plan and putting new hires into a state-run plan (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).
5. H7372: “Notwithstanding any provision of the general or public laws, or any rule or regulation to the contrary, all unfunded state mandates, not attached to federal funds, required of the towns and cities in municipal areas of operation under their jurisdiction are hereby repealed” (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26).
4B. Estate tax changes. H7491 changes the exemption for estates below $850,000 into a tax-credit of $33,200 (to be annually adjusted for inflation) which means that only value in excess of an effective exempted amount gets taxed. This changes the situation under current law where an estate valued at $850,000 might pay nothing while an estate valued at $850,001 would pay the full amount. Also, H7491 drops the estate tax exemption down to $675,000 for the remainder of this year; H7705 raises the value of estates exempted from the estate tax to $5,000,000 (to be annually adjusted for inflation); H7706 cleans up the description of the current $850,000 exemption (to be annually adjusted for inflation) and H7635 changes estate tax rules on “farmlands and other real and tangible property associated with agricultural operations” (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24).
4A. Additional income taxes; H7379 adds an additional 1% tax on incomes over $250,000; H7381 adds an additional 2% tax on incomes over $250,000; H7382 adds an additional 2% tax on incomes over $500,000; H7305 adds an additional 1% tax on incomes over $500,000 and H7729 which is supposed to set a top tax bracket of 9.99% on incomes over $250,000 that then declines with the unemployment rate, but is ambiguous about what happens if the unemployment rate doesn’t montonically decline (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24).
3. S2483: Foundation for a single-payer health insurance system in Rhode Island (S Health and Human Services; Wed, Apr 25), containing such intriguing phrases as…
  • “EOHHS [The executive office of health and human services] shall maintain enrollment and expenditures to ensure that expenditures do not exceed amounts available in the fund, and if sufficient funds are not available to cover the estimated cost of program expenditures, EOHHS shall institute appropriate measures to reduce costs”,
  • “EOHHS is authorized to seek appropriations from the general fund in the form of loans to the healthy Rhode Island program trust fund”, and
  • “In the event that EOHHS reasonably expects that the cost of healthy Rhode Island program will exceed the available funds, coverage for eligible individuals shall continue until the annual redetermination of each eligible individual, after which time EOHHS shall immediately transfer the eligible individual to coverage in the state’s health insurance exchange.” (i.e. when this program proves too expensive to manage, we’ll transfer people to a magic exchange where magic money will appear to pay their costs )
2. House Finance takes its first stab at Governor Chafee’s municipal reform package: H8006 relating to distressed community relief; H8007 changing the dates for payment of state education aid; H8008 relating to school district accounting compliance; H8009 allowing suspensions of benefit adjustments for pension plans in critical status; H8010 limiting allowed retirement benefits according to “the actuarial value of benefits afforded under the municipal employees retirement system”; H8011 modifying disability pensions in cases where the beneficiary receives other income and H8012 exempting payments made to compensate for past deficits from school district maintenance of effort calculations. (H Finance; Thu, Apr 26). Additional detail on the municipal reform bills is available here.
1B. H7340/S2279: Statutory implementation of the decision by the Board of Governors for Higher Education, to allow in-state tuition for illegal immigrants at Rhode Island public colleges and universities (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24 & S Finance; Wed, Apr 25).
1A. H7266: Statutory reversal of the decision made by the Board of Governors for Higher Education, to allow in-state tuition for illegal immigrants at Rhode Island public colleges and universities (H Finance; Tue, Apr 24).

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